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KHN First Edition: September 30, 2016


First Edition

Friday, September 30, 2016
Check Kaiser Health News online for the latest headlines

Today's early morning highlights from the major news organizations.

Kaiser Health News: A Golden Ticket That Fast-Tracks A Drug Through The FDA
Kaiser Health News staff writer Sarah Jane Tribble reports: "Drugmaker Sarepta Therapeutics won a big victory when its $300,000 muscular dystrophy drug was recently approved, but the company had other reasons to celebrate, too. They were also awarded the drug world’s equivalent of a Willy Wonka golden ticket. The ticket, known as a rare pediatric disease priority review voucher, is part of a program created by Congress in 2007 to encourage the development of drugs for tropical diseases and later expanded to rare pediatric disorders." (Tribble, 9/30)

California Healthline: UnitedHealth And University Of California To Forge Unique Alliance
California Healthline staff reporter Chad Terhune writes: "The nation’s largest health insurer and the University of California Health system are joining forces to create a new health plan option for employers and expand research into patient data. Under the 10-year partnership unveiled Thursday, UnitedHealth Group Inc. and the UC system will form an accountable care organization that will be offered to large, self-funded employers statewide. In accountable care organizations, or ACOs, physicians, hospitals and an insurer work together to coordinate care, control spending and share savings." (Terhune, 9/29)

Kaiser Health News: The Need To Replace EpiPens Regularly Adds To Concerns About Cost
KHN staff writer Carmen Heredia Rodriguez reports: "As controversy about the pricing of EpiPens reverberates from Capitol Hill to school districts across the country, one recurring complaint from consumers is that the high cost is magnified because the drug expires quickly, forcing users to regularly bear the cost of replacing the medicine that saves lives in the event of a severe allergic reaction. So what exactly determines its longevity? It turns out storage and distribution can play as important a role in the drug’s shelf life as the chemical compounds." (Rodriguez, 9/30)

Kaiser Health News: Most Hospital Palliative Care Programs Are Understaffed
Kaiser Health News consumer columnist Michelle Andrews writes: "Most hospitals offer palliative care services that help people with serious illnesses manage their pain and other symptoms and make decisions about their treatment, while providing emotional support and assistance in navigating the health system. But hospital programs vary widely, and the majority fail to provide adequate staff to meet national guidelines, a recent study found." (Andrews, 9/30)

California Healthline: Beware Of Unapproved Stem Cell Treatments
California Healthline's Emily Bazar writes: "A website for five affiliated stem cell clinics, four of them in California, hails a “breakthrough” for Parkinson’s disease: “Stem Cells Replace Damaged Nerves, Reverse Symptoms.” For those of you whose lives — or whose loved ones’ lives — have been upended by chronic or incurable conditions such as Parkinson’s, that’s just the kind of breakthrough you’ve been waiting for. (Bazar, 9/30)

The New York Times: U.S. Paid Insurers Funds Meant For Treasury, Auditors Say
Federal auditors ruled on Thursday that the Obama administration had violated the law by paying health insurance companies more than allowed under the Affordable Care Act in an effort to hold down insurance premiums. Some of the money was supposed to be deposited in the Treasury, said auditors from the Government Accountability Office. (Pear, 9/29)

The Wall Street Journal: Watchdog Says Treasury Shortchanged In Affordable Care Program
The 2010 health law required federal health officials to collect fees from unions, employers and insurance companies for a program called ‘reinsurance,’ to reimburse health plans that sustained a heavier burden of medical claims during the first few years of the law’s life. A portion of those fees was also set to go to the Treasury, the Government Accountability Office said, and following a shortfall in expected collections, HHS opted instead to prioritize payments to insurers. (Radnofsky, 9/29)

The Associated Press: Report Says Obama Administration Failed To Follow Health Law
The opinion from the Government Accountability Office is a setback for the White House and bolsters Republican complaints that administration officials bent the law as problems arose carrying out its complex provisions. The finding may complicate efforts to stabilize premiums in the law's insurance marketplaces, where about 11 million people get coverage. The Obama administration said it "strongly disagrees" with the GAO's conclusion. (9/29)

Politico: Watchdog Knocks Administration For Misusing Obamacare Funds
Republicans, who asked the GAO investigate the issue, hailed the GAO's finding as vindication for their longstanding claims that the Obama administration is wrongly prioritizing insurers over taxpayers. “This new opinion from the government’s top watchdog confirms that the Obama administration is not above the law,” said Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in a statement. "The administration needs to put an end to the Great Obamacare Heist immediately.” (Demko, 9/29)

The Washington Post: Obama Administration May Use Obscure Fund To Pay Billions To ACA Insurers
The Obama administration is maneuvering to pay health insurers billions of dollars the government owes under the Affordable Care Act, through a move that could circumvent Congress and help shore up the president’s signature legislative achievement before he leaves office. Justice Department officials have privately told several health plans suing over the unpaid money that they are eager to negotiate a broad settlement, which could end up offering payments to about 175 health plans selling coverage on ACA marketplaces, according to insurance executives and lawyers familiar with the talks. (Goldstein, 9/29)

The Wall Street Journal: Congressional Leaders Put Medical-Research Bill On Priority List
Congressional leaders said Thursday that legislation to inject billions of dollars into federal biomedical research and ease drug approvals is a main priority for the lame-duck session after the November elections. The measure is one of the biggest pieces of legislation left on the table as lawmakers left town on Thursday to campaign for re-election. The fact that both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) put it on the agenda for the session suggests it has a strong chance of advancing in the weeks after the election. (Hughes and Burton, 9/29)

The Associated Press: Medicare Sets New Patient Safety Goals For Hospitals
Medicare is setting new goals for keeping hospitalized patients safe and reducing readmissions after patients are discharged. Hospitalization can be hazardous to your health, with risks like medication errors, falls and infections. And a lack of follow-through after patients are discharged can sometimes land them right back in the hospital. (9/29)

The Washington Post: CDC Officials Worry That New Flu Vaccine Recommendations Could Reduce Use
Flu season is about to start, and public health officials are worried that their recommendation earlier this year to avoid using the nasal spray version of the annual vaccine will result in fewer people getting protection. The CDC has recommended annual flu shots for everyone ages 6 months and older for the past six years. During the 2014-2015 season, federal health officials had recommended the nasal spray vaccine for young children. But an expert panel on vaccines said in June that the nasal spray, FluMist, used by millions, failed to protect children last year for the third year in a row and should not be used this coming flu season. (Sun, 9/29)

NPR: CDC Urges Americans To Get A Flu Shot As Soon As Possible
Federal health officials are urging all Americans to get their flu shots as soon as possible, and are especially concerned that too few elderly people are getting vaccinated. "Flu is serious. Flu is unpredictable," Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told reporters during a joint briefing Thursday with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. "Flu often does not get enough respect." (Stein, 9/29)

The New York Times: C.D.C. Advises Against Travel To Zika-Affected Countries In Southeast Asia
Federal health officials on Thursday advised pregnant women to “consider postponing nonessential” travel to 11 countries in Southeast Asia where the Zika virus was circulating. The warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was not as urgent as those issued starting in January, which advised pregnant women to avoid Latin American and Caribbean countries overwhelmed by the Zika epidemic. (McNeil, 9/29)

The New York Times: California Shooting Shows Police Ill-Equipped To Handle Mentally Ill
The fatal shooting by police of a mentally unstable California man and the anguished response of his sister who had called 911 seeking help highlight the risks of a U.S. system that often relies on law enforcement to respond to mental health crises. Alfred Olango, 38, a Ugandan-born immigrant, was shot by one officer even as another, who had been trained to deal with mentally ill people, attempted to subdue him with a Taser, police said. (Bernstein, 9/29)

NPR: Rats! They Could Be Better Than Mice For Testing Alzheimer's Drugs
What rats can remember may help people who forget. Researchers are reporting evidence that rats possess "episodic memories," the kind of memories that allow us to go back in time and recall specific events. These memories are among the first to disappear in people who develop Alzheimer's disease. (Hamilton, 9/29)

The Associated Press: Federal Judge Blocks Arkansas Planned Parenthood Defunding
A federal judge on Thursday temporarily prohibited Arkansas from blocking Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood, expanding her order requiring the state to continue paying for services for three patients who had sued over the move. U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker issued a preliminary injunction preventing Arkansas from suspending payments to Planned Parenthood for any services to Medicaid patients in the state. (9/29)

Reuters: Ex-Insys Sales Manager Arrested In U.S. Fentanyl-Kickback Case
A former Insys Therapeutics Inc district sales manager was arrested on Thursday on charges he participated in a scheme to pay kickbacks to doctors to prescribe a drug containing the opioid fentanyl, U.S. prosecutors said. Jeffrey Pearlman, 49, was charged in a criminal complaint filed in federal court in New Haven, Connecticut, becoming the latest individual to face prosecution in connection with probes involving Insys' drug Subsys. (Raymond, 9/29)

Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent operating program of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (c) 2016 Kaiser Health News. All rights reserved.

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